Leeds United v Wolverhampton Wanderers: Time for Marcelo Bielsa’s men to show their mettle again

AMID the plethora of plaudits bestowed upon Leeds United’s players during Marcelo Bielsa’s magnificent tenure, commendation of their mental fortitude is not at the forefront.

Nevertheless, it is a merit which fully deserves a place at the table.

The majority of the talk has focused on the footballing verve and artistic beauty of a group who have provided sunshine to the Premier League and EFL landscape and won admirers from much further afield than Yorkshire; rightly so.

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But in some bad moments, they have periodically shown their mettle as every successful Leeds player must do during their time at a 24/7 club where the loyalty is fierce and unstinting among a fanbase, but the demands are high.

Liam Cooper: Will lead Leeds United by example. Picture: Getty Images

Leeds endured some hurt in the second half of Bielsa’s first season in charge – think QPR away and Wigan at home for instance and that shattering play-off second leg against Derby.

Even in their splendid title-winning campaign of 2019-20, there were some testing episodes in January especially, while last season’s glorious reacquaintance with the top-flight had some periodic moments of pain, none more so than at Old Trafford.

Leeds have shown a capacity to come out on the other side and so they must do so again.

Last weekend’s loss at Southampton was widely cited as the poorest performance of Bielsa’s tenure. The bare facts show that Leeds have won just once in eight league matches this term ahead of today’s game, which precedes an important league trip to Norwich next weekend.

Battler: Leeds United's Adam Forshaw challenges Nathan Redmond at St Mary's Stadium.

The concern is palpable.

Bielsa, typically not shying away from anything, commented: “There is a phrase that I read not too long ago that says that teams are made out of crystal. It is difficult to make them solid and they break from one day to another.

“So we played our best game of the season against Watford and the worst against Southampton.

“More than whether the opponents were better or worse, teams change frequently. What allows a team after a loss of form to recover quickly is the amount of work that is accumulated and the fortitude of spirit spiritually from the group to accept the difficulties.

“There are groups that move away in difficulties. They don’t want to belong to something that is not in an attractive moment and there are other groups that come together to the place where they belong to and they make the maximum efforts to modify the realities that affect their people, their club and their fans.

“The challenge for a coach in the adversity is to try and find this type of feeling.”

In tough times, strong dressing rooms lick their wounds and fight back. Good, proper professionals such as Liam Cooper and Stuart Dallas, omnipresent during the Bielsa journey, have done that along with the likes of Jack Harrison.

Adam Forshaw’s triumph over adversity on the injury front points to his own strength of character and United’s overseas contingent contains not just talent, but driven individuals, none moreso than their current shining light in Raphinha, who will make a welcome return today.

But it is likely to be the club’s British core who will be looked to set the example in the weeks ahead and Bielsa feels consoled in that regard in possessing players whose thirst for improvement and driving of standards is high.

It was noted by many that amid Leeds’s dismal loss at St Mary’s that Bielsa’s side were outrun for the first time since returning to the top-flight.

Not least by those proud senior figures in his dressing room.

Bielsa said: “I don’t tell them to play well, bad or regular, but for 50 games now, the team makes the most effort in the best league in the world. Their commitment and physical effort is linked to the willingness, so it’s one of the few things you can demand and apart from that, the origin comes from the minds.

“The limits of the efforts are not positioned to the muscular energy but in the mental capacity to activate. The accumulated energy is not indispensable, but in the high competition everyone has accumulated enough energy.

“What really allows you to overcome the limits is the mental strength to put at play what you possess. I know a manager’s maximum expression if they are not convinced of what they are doing and I always say it that it hasn’t got to do with any virtue that I have, but due to the essence of the British player.

“The British player from my point of experience has the capacity to activate his resources that is very, very high.

“The Basque football, which is the football that I learned at Athletic Bilbao, in that sense is very similar and Basque football is very similar to English football.”

As someone who has a social conscience, Bielsa is acutely aware of his surroundings. He knows how much Leeds means to the people he has lived and worked around since June, 2018.

He added: “After a defeat, depending on the dimension of the defeat, there is a process of a duel, hurt and pain and the immediate search for revenge to come back.

“I also sometimes think of those who are listening to us and there are a lot of fans who are connected with Leeds they may find it acceptable what we are saying.

“In some way, we feel the same as they do. But in another way, so many people that live in the real world talk about defeat that it can be thought of as a scale of values that is very big.

“There are people who ask you for a ticket to watch Leeds United because they have a few days to live and imagine if you compare that loss to what we have been describing, it is proportionate in the evaluation.”

Very true words, but Leeds United still matters to so many.